Sharon Chandler is eating healthier at home, thanks to the health and wellness ministry at In Christ New Hope Ministry in Rochester. She is roasting more vegetables and is seeking out other healthier food alternatives.
“If you don’t change the way you think, you don’t change the way you eat,” Chandler said.
That mindset shift is one of the lessons she has passed on to the parents she works with in her day job as children’s ministry youth leader at In Christ New Hope Ministry. She said the health and wellness ministry inspired her to find healthier snacks to feed the children at the church.
To nurture her commitment to heathy living, Chandler joined more than 50 pastors, spiritual leaders and community health organizations at the Interdenominational Health Ministry Coalition’s health conference June 10. The conference continued with daylong talks and workshops June 11 for about 75 community members.
Building on the success of their 2015 men’s health conference, this year’s IHMC conference focused on health as a spiritual matter and the connection among mind, body and spirit. The conference is part of IHMC’s ongoing work to encourage local health ministries and was sponsored in part by a grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and was supported by Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency.
In his keynote address June 10, Pastor George Nicholas of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church in Buffalo said health ministries need to stress healthy living and eating, but also to address the social determinants of health, which he said lead to health disparities.
“There can be no peace when there are so many African Americans who are suffering from health disparities,” said Nicholas, a former chair of FLHSA’s African American Health Task Force, which is now known as the African American Health Coalition. “We must be prophetic about the cause of illness. We must be courageous when calling out the root cause of illness.”
Nicholas said systemic racism has led to the social disparities, which then create the health disparities. “As spiritual leaders, we must link the impact of current and historical racism to the health of our people,” he said.
Other presenters pointed to the key role ministers can play. Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School President Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D., a prostate cancer survivor, encouraged pastors to promote cancer screenings and early detection among congregants.
To provide help with framing healthy behaviors as a religious practice, each spiritual leader was given a copy of the video “Body and Soul: A guide to Healthy Living and Eating,” which was developed for African American churches by the National Cancer Institute.
Supporting wellness year round
Founded in 2012 by FLHSA Community Engagement Specialist Phyllis Jackson and run by volunteers, IHMC is currently active in 18 churches, offering health ministry toolkits, seminars, conferences and connections to health-focused community-based organizations.
“We want congregations to have a health ministry that is active and sustainable. IHMC can connect them with resources,” said IHMC Community Health Coordinator Cathy Little, who also helps organize the health ministry for In Christ New Hope Ministry.
IHMC also partners with the High Blood Collaborative’s Healthy Blood Pressure Through Faith and Lifestyle Project, which offers health education and targeted lifestyle interventions to participants, who are tracked to determine if the interventions are effective.
Little said one of the most popular talks during the conference was taking ownership of your health and healthcare, which trained people in self-advocacy.
She said there’s a need in the community for people to feel comfortable asking questions at the doctor’s office and seeking out the best path to their own well-being. Having lived with a chronic illness for 28 years, she said she had to learn the questions to ask and how to seek out appropriate treatments for her mind, body and spirit in order to be at her healthiest.
“I know in my own journey, I’ve had to learn how to advocate for myself,” Little said.
Little said health ministry participants at her church have made major lifestyle changes, which have helped them resolve health issues. Those results have also been seen at New Life Fellowship, said Jennifer Reid, a nurse practitioner who has a Ph.D. in education and executive leadership.
Reid said one person at the church lost 60 pounds and another person lost 90 pounds, thanks to the support of the health ministry at the church. Ministry volunteers brought in a nutritionist and also organized a tour of a supermarket to identify healthy food and show how to read labels.
She said a faith-based setting is an effective way to spread health messages because a foundation of trust already exists in the faith community.
“I really think trust is a major thing, especially in the African American community,” Reid said. “Trust is huge.”
Learn more about IHMC at www.ihmcroc.org